JIM LEHRER: And once again to Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. So, describe the Democratic nomination landscape tonight, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: John Kerry -- John. Big John, little John. OK. Big John Kerry had a big day yesterday. He is very much clearly unequivocally, categorically the front-runner. His opponents yesterday decided to single shot him, each taking a state. Joe Lieberman in Delaware failed. Wes Clark in Oklahoma concentrated effort time, energy resources there, eked out a close victory over John Edwards. John Edwards won in South Carolina, the state of his birth after campaigning hard there. But Kerry won from coast to coast.
It's impressive. I think if there is, the race now is Kerry the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination, John Edwards the underdog, dark horse, and Wes Clark the really long shot. Wes Clark got a victory. I'm not sure if he got any momentum or where he goes. I think contrary to his interview with Ray, he has to establish he is not a regional candidate. Virginia and Tennessee, the first time in this race, John Edwards has expectations posed upon him that he has to do well in Virginia and Tennessee. If he doesn't, then it's going to be a disappointment.
JIM LEHRER: What would you add or subtract from Mark?
DAVID BROOKS: I would just try to be a little stupider about it. John Kerry has won seven out of the nine campaigns and lost two. Everyone else is 1-8 and 0-9. If you bet on a football team, the 7-2 team is probably better. A lot of us in the media are trying to make this seem a little closer because we like John Edwards. We think he is a better campaigner, which he is, but it's not competitive right now.
JIM LEHRER: What did you see, David, in the exit polls from the seven states yesterday that struck you as significant?
DAVID BROOKS: John Kerry is Wal-Mart. He's got support everywhere. He's got a product for everybody and crushes all competitors, takes up a lot of space. If there is a little weakness that you see in the exit polls, he did a little less well down market in rural areas, what you might call Red America and the area Bush carried.
You could say that's not a problem because the Democrats are never going to win South Carolina or Oklahoma anyway. What is the problem? I think the problem is that there are swing states like Pennsylvania or West Virginia which do have large Red America portions. It is important for a Democratic candidate to do well among the guys as Howard Dean famously called guys with the pickup truck trucks. John Kerry does not do too well with them.
JIM LEHRER: How did you read exit data?
MARK SHIELDS: It struck me that John Kerry continues to do extraordinarily well among the Democratic voters who really, for whom beating George Bush is a paramount concern. He is seen overwhelmingly as the Democrat with the best chance of beating George W. Bush and the Democrat with the best experience.
JIM LEHRER: That's against all other candidates.
MARK SHIELDS: Against all other Democratic candidates. This doesn't suggest emotion or caring or commitment or passion.
JIM LEHRER: These aren't --
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. Whereas, John Edwards has emerged as the category cares about people like me. John Edwards consistently does better. This not only shows the strength of Edwards, it shows a potential weakness of Kerry's, which is the remoteness, the aloofness, the sense that is he really engaged, can he engage with people?
On the economic question, who would be better in jobs, which really came up very high with -- you've got an overwhelming number of Democrats and record turnouts in virtually every state yesterday saying the economy, a bad economy. And the jobs are considerable concern to them. Edwards really did better than Kerry did among those voters.
JIM LEHRER: I see.
DAVID BROOKS: Just on this Kerry support, there are two ways you can vote going to the polls: Strategic voting, which is electability, or principled voting, who's closest to me. When you do principled voting, you know a lot. You know your principles and what the candidates are. But electability is trying to imagine -- you're sitting there in South Carolina or Missouri -- you're trying to imagine what a swing voter nine months from now or seven months from now will want in a presidential candidate and how they'll vote in November.
JIM LEHRER: Some other voter, but another voter.
DAVID BROOKS: You're not a swing voter. So you're voting on ignorance. And the one other thing we know about that kind of voting is swing voters do not care about electability by definition. They just want the best president so there's sort of a cycle where the guy who seems electable wins votes in Democratic primaries but swing voters, that doesn't appeal to them at all.
JIM LEHRER: As we move into these next crucial weeks, the next few weeks, this weekend and then next week with some more primaries et cetera and then after that Wisconsin and down the line, is Kerry the kind of candidate who is likely to hurt himself, in other words to stumble and cause his own destruction as other candidates have tended to do?
DAVID BROOKS: I think probably not. If you look at the Kerry campaigns over the years starting with Ed Markey campaign way back when and going through the bill weld campaign, he runs the same...
JIM LEHRER: Ran for the Senate in 1996.
DAVID BROOKS: He runs the same basic campaign. There's the long lag. He seems down, he seems uninspiring. Then the last ten days something kicks in. The wall of pompasity falls off and he does great. I think he is likely to sag; I think he is unlikely to do something tremendously stupid.
JIM LEHRER: What is your reading on that?
MARK SHIELDS: John Kerry is smart and he is sure-footed. He has thought long and hard about this. This is not an impulsive decision to run for president.
JIM LEHRER: Somebody is looking for him to blow this thing, forget it?
MARK SHIELDS: The flare of the temper or whatever. Every candidate is always accused of having a short temper in public. They probably do under stress, but very rarely does it erupt.
JIM LEHRER: As we look ahead, Mark, how likely is it that these others, Edwards, Clark, in particular, and Dean, the three remaining major candidates, how likely is it that they'll go after Kerry in a big way, a major way?
MARK SHIELDS: Kerry has probably had the easiest weeks as a front-runner of any candidate in American political history. Nobody has really gone after him because nobody figured out whether or how. I think partly seared by the experience of Gephardt and Deem in Iowa where they hurt each other with their negative ads, but nobody has really developed a strategy. You got to...
JIM LEHRER: Do you think that's going to change?
MARK SHIELDS: I think you have to. You are going to draw contrasts and differences, especially if you are John Edwards. He started in an interview about the difference in trade, difference toward lobbyists, he had a little different outlook and view. But I think Howard Dean has raised legitimate questions about John Kerry saying, you know, he hates lobbyists but raised more money from lobbyists than anybody. It is a fair charge, honest charge. People have to decide if it is relevant to their decision in picking a president.
JIM LEHRER: We heard what John Edwards said about the differences between John Edwards and Kerry. Are they that large?
DAVID BROOKS: They're substantial. There's a little difference on NAFTA. The rest of the issues, if you look at the war, their voting records, you would need an electron microscope to tell the difference. The differences are aesthetic, they're demographic. Kerry is richer than Edwards was at least growing up. And they're experiential. Kerry has been in the Senate for a long time. Edwards is the fresh face.
I don't know where the Democratic Party is right now over the past month, both wings of the party have lost. They both lost influence and instead, we have this mushy center thing that is this populism that both Kerry and Edwards have launched on to with the special interest rhetoric. What is the ideology and what does it mean? I really don't know.
MARK SHIELDS: I don't know what it means -- when Halliburton in the headlines today returning $27 million calling it an overcharge --
JIM LEHRER: For food -- not for oil --
MARK SHIELDS: For food that they never provided. I mean that isn't overcharge. That's basically larceny in the sense that this administration is too close to corporate interests. And ... more indifferent to the plight of people who are facing anxiety and difficulty and I think that's --
DAVID BROOKS: That's not a world view though -- it's a protest.
MARK SHIELDS: It's a response to the perceived mismanagement of the presidency.
JIM LEHRER: There's no mismanagement here tonight, gentlemen. We'll pick this up on Friday night. Thank you both very much.